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Onnoghen: Appeal Court Withholds Judgment on Four Appeals

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Justice Walter Onnoghen has five pending appeals before the Court of Appeal in Abuja, but none of them was decided before he was convicted and removed from office by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on Thursday, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.

Onnoghen filed the sixth appeal on Thursday to challenge his conviction by the CCT.

The appeals were filed within the three months the historic trial of the ex-CJN lasted.

One of the five pre-judgment appeals Onnoghen filed on March 29 to challenge the CCT’s decision to dismiss his no-case submission has not been heard as the defence and prosecution have yet to exchange briefs on it.

While four out of the six pending appeals were heard on February 27,  the Court of Appeal continues to withhold its judgments on them about seven weeks after the verdicts were reserved.

Speaking with our correspondent on Friday, one of the lawyers in Onnoghen’s legal team, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), confirmed that with the one filed on Thursday to challenge the conviction, there were six appeals relating to the trial at the Court of Appeal.

He said, “Before the judgment on Thursday, we had five appeals. But with the one filed yesterday (Thursday), we now have six appeals.

“Out of the six appeals, four have been heard, but judgments have not been delivered despite having been heard many weeks ago.”

Asked on Friday if the defence team had received the date for the judgments, Uche said, “no”.

Although the constitution gives a court a period not more than three months to deliver its judgment or ruling after the hearing of any application or a suit, Onnoghen’s legal team and aides have been expressing concerns about the delayed judgments of the Court of Appeal.

Onnoghen’s lead defence counsel in his trial at CCT, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), had in The PUNCH’s earlier report expressed disappointment with the development when responding to our correspondent’s enquiry.

He said, “We are highly disappointed that the Court of Appeal has not delivered its judgments on the appeals by the CJN despite the far-reaching constitutional implications of the appeals.

“This is a case that affects the judiciary, but things have slowed down at the Court of Appeal.”

But the prosecuting counsel, Mr Aliyu Umar (SAN), who led the Federal Government’s team to oppose the appeals at the higher court, had also in The PUNCH’s report dismissed the concerns expressed by the defence in an interview with our correspondent.

“The Court of Appeal has three months within which to give judgments, and they are still within their right, as long as they don’t exceed three months,” Umar said.

One of  Onnoghen’s four appeals already heard by the Court of Appeal challenged the jurisdiction of the CCT to hear the non-declaration of assets charges instituted against him before the CCT.

Another appeal challenged the February 23 ex parte order which President Muhammadu Buhari relied on to suspend him as the CJN  and to appoint Justice Tanko Muhammad as the acting CJN on February 25.

The third appeal challenged the CCT’s refusal to be bound by the orders made by the Federal High Court and the National Industrial Court directing the tribunal to halt the CJN’s trial.

The fourth one asked the court to set aside the arrest warrant issued against him by the CCT on February 13.

On February 27, a three-man bench of the court led by Justice Steven Adah finally heard the four appeals and reserved judgments, after the cases had been previously adjourned on three occasions.

Justice Adah, who led Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson and Justice Peter Ige on the panel, said the date for the judgments would be communicated to the parties when the judgments are ready.

But seven weeks after no date for the judgment has been communicated.

The remaining two appeals yet to be heard are the ones challenging the March 28 ruling of the CCT, on Onnoghen’s no-case submission, and another challenging the judgment of the tribunal which convicted him on Thursday.

The three-man tribunal led by Danladi Umar after convicting Onnoghen, ordered his removal as the CJN and the Chairman of both the National Judicial and the Federal Judicial Service Commission.

The tribunal banned him from holding any public officer for a period of 10 years.

The tribunal also ordered the forfeiture of the money in the five bank accounts which the defendant failed to declare as part of his assets in breach of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers.

The Punch

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Just In: Bayelsa Guber Election: Court Annuls APC’s Participation

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The Federal High Court, Yenagoa, on Thursday declared that the All Progressives Congress (APC) does not have a governorship candidate in the forthcoming election in Bayelsa State.

This development is coming two days to the election.

The court was presided over by Justice Jane Inyang.

The court declaration, on Thursday, was part of its judgement in a case filed by Heineken Lokpobiri, one of the APC governorship aspirants.

Mr Lokpobiri, a former minister of state for agriculture, had approached the court, asking it to declare him, and not David Lyon, the authentic candidate of the APC.

“The court pronounced that the governorship primary conducted by the APC in Bayelsa state was not done in compliance with the guidelines and the constitution of the party, and, therefore, the party has no candidate,” Mr Lokpobiri’s lawyer, Fitzgerald Olorogun, told reporters immediately after the court ruling.

A shocked Mr Olorogun said the court declaration was not part of their prayers. “It’s strange,” he said.

Asked what was the next option for his client, Mr Olorogun said “We’ll do the needful. But for now, the pronouncement of the court is that APC has no candidate.”

There was heavy police presence within and outside the court premises. The main highway way leading to the court was barricaded by the police. Visitors, including journalists, were frisked before they were allowed to enter the court building.

Mr Lokpobiri, before now, has been urging the people of Bayelsa to vote for the APC in the November 16 election, despite his court case against Mr Lyon and the party.

“I’m a very strong member of APC and I came today to formally tell our chairman and to speak to Nigerians, in particular, the electorate in Bayelsa that all of them should vote for APC regardless of what happens in the court case in which judgment is slated for Nov. 14, 2019,” the former minister said in Abuja after a courtesy visit on the national chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole.

“I told my supporters even before I came here that no matter what happened, I will remain in APC having served as a minister under this administration.

“There is no way the outcome of the governorship primaries will make me leave APC. We are working and campaigning at different levels.

“I always advise that anybody that is grieved, the only place to go is the court.

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Senate’s Hate Speech Bill: Atiku Abubakar Speaks

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A former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, has cautioned Nigerian senators against moves to pass a bill criminalising purported hate speech.

The bill being sponsored by Sabi Abdullahi of the All Progressives Congress is targeted at punishing anyone found guilty of spreading “misinformation.”

The bill also prescribed death penalty for anyone found guilty of spreading a falsehood that led to the death of another person.

But civic groups have been critical about the bill because of its narrow and unclear definition of what constitutes hate speech.

The advocates argued that the Senate’s interpretation of ‘hate speech’ would be at odds with the Nigerian Constitution if the bill becomes law as designed. The Constitution protects the rights to unhindered speech, expression and association.

Mr Abubakar aligned with those who believe the constitutional safeguards for free speech should be strengthened rather than undermined by lawmakers and other politicians in power.

The former vice-president and main opposition candidate at the 2019 presidential election said the freedom of speech and other key elements of civil liberties which Nigerians enjoyed between 1999 and 2015 should not be taken away by the current administration.

“It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests,” Mr Abubakar said in an emailed statement signed by his spokesperson, Paul Ibe.

Efforts to regulate the media has been keenly considered and publicly pushed by politicians since Muhammadu Buhari assumed power in 2015.

Mr Buhari has a history of brutal repression from his military era in the 1980s, a label from which he remained unflinching.

The president has repeatedly told the country that his government will continue to ignore rights in favour of national security.

Some of his appointees, especially information minister Lai Mohammed, have insisted Nigerians’ free speech will be curbed.

Mr Mohammed said social media has become a tool of irresponsibility amongst elements determined to foment chaos in the country. He has equally overseen imposition of heavy fines on broadcast stations over alleged hate speech on their platforms.

There were efforts to push a variation of the current hate speech bill through the parliament in 2015, but it failed amidst nationwide uproar.

 

The reintroduced version contained essentially the same fundamentals and Nigerians have vowed to resist it as they did four years ago.

Read Mr Abubakar’s full statement below:

Atiku Abubakar wishes to sound a note of caution to those now toying with the idea of an Anti Hate Speech Bill, with punishment for supposed Hate Speech to be death by hanging. The contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech, but an abuse of the legislative process that will violate Nigerians’ constitutionally guaranteed right to Freedom of Speech.

Atiku urges those behind this Bill to awake to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy has survived its longest incarnation, because those who governed this great nation between 1999 and 2015 never toyed with this most fundamental of freedoms. It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests.

Freedom of Speech was not just bestowed to Nigerians by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), it is also a divine right given to all men by their Creator. History is littered with the very negative unintended consequences that result when this God given right is obstructed by those who seek to intimidate the people rather than accommodate them.

We should be reminded that history does not repeat itself. Rather, men repeat history. And often, to disastrous consequences.

Nigeria presently has too many pressing concerns. We are now the world headquarters for extreme poverty as well as the global epicentre of out-of-school children. Our economy is smaller than it was in 2015, while our population is one of the world’s fastest growing. We have retrogressed in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, from the position we held four years ago, and our Human Development Indexes are abysmally low.

It therefore begs the question: should we not rather make laws to tackle these pressing domestic challenges, instead of this Bill, which many citizens consider obnoxious?

Again, Atiku cautions that we must prioritise our challenges ahead of the whims and caprices of those who do not like to hear the inconvenient truth. Stop this folly and focus on issues that matter to Nigerians.

Paul Ibe

Premium Times

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Sowore: Buhari’s Govt Insecure, Paranoid – Soyinka

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The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, has called on civil society organisations to strategize and coordinate their responses to attacks on human rights by state agents under President Muhammadu Buhari.

Mr Soyinka, in his statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, reacted to the attack on protesters on Tuesday in Abuja for demanding the release of Omoyele Sowore by the State Security Service.

“The sporadic, uncoordinated responses as in the case of Omoyele Sowore, the absence of a solid strategy, ready to be activated against any threat — these continue to enable these agencies in their mission to enthrone a pattern of conduct that openly scoffs at the role of the judiciary in national life,” the don said.

He condemned “the level of arrogance” by agents of the state under President Buhari, saying it “has crossed even the most permissive thresholds.”

“As I remarked from the onset, this is an act of government insecurity and paranoia that merely defeats its real purpose,” he said.

Read Soyinka’s full statement below…

SOWORE, HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RULE OF LAW

It should become abundantly clear by now that Civil Society organisations, committed to the entrenchment of the Rule of Law and the defence of fundamental human rights must come together. This is not a new cry. They must meet, debate, and embark on a binding pact of tactical responses whenever these two pillars of civilized society are besieged by the demolition engines of state security agencies. The sporadic, uncoordinated responses as in the case of Omoyele Sowore, the absence of a solid strategy, ready to be activated against any threat — these continue to enable these agencies in their mission to enthrone a pattern of conduct that openly scoffs at the role of the judiciary in national life. Result? A steady entrenchment of the cult of impunity in the dealings of state with the citizenry – both individuals and organizations. The level of arrogance has crossed even the most permissive thresholds.

It is heart-warming to witness the determined efforts of “Concerned Nigerians” in defence of these rights. Predictably, the ham-fisted response of the Directorate of State Security (DSS) continues to defy the rulings of the court. The weaponry of lies having been exploded in their faces, they resort to what else? Violence! Violence, including, as now reported, the firing of live bullets. Why the desperation? The answer is straightforward: the government never imagined that the bail conditions for Sowore would ever be met. Even Sowore’s supporters despaired. The bail test was clearly set to fail! It took a while for the projection to be reversed, and it left the DSS floundering. That agency then resorted to childish, cynical lies. It claimed that the ordered release was no longer in their hands, but in Sowore’s end of the transfer. The lie being exploded, what next? Bullets of course!

Such a development is not only callous and inhuman, it is criminal. It escalates an already untenable defiance by the state. As I remarked from the onset, this is an act of government insecurity and paranoia that merely defeats its real purpose. And now – bullets? This is no longer comical. Perhaps it is necessary to remind this government of precedents in other lands where, even years after the event, those who trampled on established human rights that generate homicidal impunity are called to account for abuse of power and crimes against humanity. The protests for Sowore’s release go beyond only acts of solidarity, they are manifestations of the judgment and authority of courts of law, under which this nation is supposedly governed. Either it is, or it isn’t. The answer stares us all in the face. The principles that now fall under threat implicate more than one individual under travail. They involve the very entitlement of a nation to lay claim to membership of any democratic, humanized union.

Enough of this charade, nothing more than a display of crude, naked power. Release Omoyele Sowore and save us further embarrassment in the regard of the world. An apology to the nation by the DSS and the judiciary would also not be out of place. It would go some distance in redeeming the image of an increasingly fascistic agency and reduce the swelling tide of public disillusionment.

Let the rule of law reign. Failing that, have the honesty to proclaim the death of ordered society. Then we’ll all know just where we stand.

Wole SOYINKA
WS Foundation for the Humanities
Abeokuta, Ogun State
November 12, 2019

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